In Romans 1:16 & 17 Paul has given us a summary of the gospel – a message that tells us how God acquits the guilty in a way that depends on him and not on human innocence or ability.

In Romans 1:18 Paul begins a lengthy explanation of why such a gospel is necessary. In the original text, this verse begins with the small, but significant, connective word ‘for’, meaning ‘because’.

This little word ‘for’ answers such questions as:

Why do we need to be saved?

Why can’t we save ourselves?

Why does it take God's power to save us?

Why is a righteousness from God necessary?

The first reason this gift of righteousness from God is necessary is that ‘the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness’.

In these words Paul introduces us to the very real concept of 'the wrath of God'.

God is real.

His hatred and prohibition of sin are real.

His justice is real.

His wrath – his just and sustained anger against sin – is real.

His condemnation and judgement are real.

To deny the reality of the just, sustained wrath of God is to deny the reality of our need for salvation and to deny the necessity of the cross. Apart from this wrath there would be no need for salvation, for there would be no penalty incurred by sin. Salvation is necessary because of this 'wrath of God'. We must not understand God’s 'wrath' to refer to spontaneous or irrational anger, but to indicate his just, deliberate, determined, historic and on-going opposition to and judgment on sin. God opposes sin. God imposes sin's penalty. God exacts punishment. This is part of his holiness, part of his perfection, part of his justice, that sin must be opposed because sin is contrary to all that God is and to all that he created us to be.

Even our sinful human hearts crave justice. We recognize that wrong-doing merits punishment.

Here, in speaking of the wrath of God, we are speaking of his justice.

Paul also teaches us in verse 18 that God's wrath is being revealed. That is, right now, at this present time. Just as he has told us that in the gospel 'a righteousness from God is revealed', so also is God's wrath being revealed from heaven. This has been so from the first warning against sin (Gen 2:17), right up to the time that Paul was writing, and even until now. God has not kept his wrath hidden. God's opposition to sin and his final judgment against sin on the last day has never been a secret. In addition, the death of Christ on the cross for sin is the clearest revelation of the wrath of God that God has ever given; every time the message of this death is proclaimed, the wrath of God is revealed. This death that Christ experienced affirms beyond question that the wrath of God is real.

Paul tells us that God's wrath is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness (1:18).

Note the word 'all'. None of our sin is exempt from God’s wrath, regardless of who we are or what we are in terms of culture or heritage.

The totality of sin is encapsulated here in these two words 'godlessness' and 'wickedness'. Together these words refer to all defiance and disregard of God's person: not only the overt expression of observable sinfulness which we would categorize under the heading of 'wickedness', but the very heart attitude out of which these sins come: the sin of not giving to God the place and the honour due to him as God, that is, 'godlessness'.

The word translated 'godlessness' is asebeian' which is formed by the negative 'a' followed by a derivative of sebomai which refers to reverence, worship and adoration. Rightly understood 'godlessness' is not always observable as overt acts of sin. 'Godlessness' can in fact display the observable characteristics of goodness. There are many 'good' people who are quite 'godless', who do not reverence, worship or adore God. They may be 'good' by human standards, or even by the standards of God's moral laws, but they neither know nor honour God.

The word translated 'wickedness' is 'adikia' - 'unrighteousness', which is the opposite of 'righteousness'. The righteousness from God revealed in the gospel stands in stark contrast to our 'wickedness', our total lack of righteousness. There is nothing in us that would gain our acquittal in the courts of heaven: we are adikoi - not innocent, not able to be acquitted, not right according to legal standards.

It is this comprehensive human sinfulness that, along with the wrath of God, necessitates a gospel righteousness from God. It is this comprehensive human sinfulness that necessitates the gospel being the 'power of God', for it is obvious that we are powerless to do anything to save ourselves. The gospel is what it is of necessity, because we are what we are.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2019